Kenya faces a historic decision to close parliament for failing to enact rules on fair gender representation in public bodies.
Chief Justice David Maraga advised President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve the legislature after receiving six petitions on the
matter. Lawmakers were supposed to have implemented the legislation by 2015, five years after Kenya adopted a new constitution that includes a requirement for more women representatives in leadership.
Women make up about half of Kenya’s population and should have a greater say in tackling challenges the country faces, said Damaris Seleina Parsitau, director of the Institute of Women, Gender & Development Studies at Egerton University in Kenya’s rift valley region. “Any society that is gender inclusive is a better society,” she said.
The constitution requires that no more than two-thirds of members of elective and appointive public bodies be of the same gender. Kenya’s bicameral parliament falls short of the required gender ratio, according to the National
Gender and Equality Commission. The National Assembly has 349 members, of which 76, or about 22%, are women, while only 21, or 31%, of the 67-member Senate are female.
Maraga’s advice leaves Kenyatta with the choice of either complying and triggering a series of by-elections, or defying him and risk having new laws challenged in court. The impasse threatens to bring Kenyatta’s legislative agenda to a halt two years before his term ends. National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi challenged the guidance, saying the state, and not parliament alone, is responsible for enacting legislation on gender quotas.
“The Kenyan parliament has been wrongly castigated for failure to enact the relevant legislation,” he said in a statement published in
Standard newspaper. State House spokeswoman Kanze Dena didn’t immediately respond to calls and a message requesting comment.
With his second five-year term expiring in 2022, Kenyatta needs parliament’s backing to fulfill his so-called Big Four program to build more houses, improve health-care and boost manufacturing and farming output. Implementing the plan may require lawmakers to approve more borrowing at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is curbing government revenue.
Maraga’s advice also comes as Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga put the final touches on a plan to overhaul the way the country is governed. Under the Building Bridges Initiative, they’re proposing
replacing the winner-takes-all electoral system that’s spawned ethnic violence with an inclusive government that would include a reintroduced post of prime minister.